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Using Black and White to Correct Color
by Larry Berman and Chris Maher

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I make it a habit to attend Photoshop workshops and seminars whenever possible to learn new real world tips and techniques. I came across the Digital Calibration Target at an Ed Pierce seminar where he was teaching how to use it to match the brides skin tone under the various lighting conditions encountered during a wedding shoot. I immediately realized the similarity in the need for artists to get consistent accurate color in their jury images and incorporated the technique into my seminars, which led to writing this article.
Consistently achieving accurate color may be digital photography’s most difficult skill to master. Shooting the same subject under different lighting conditions can cause unacceptable color variations which can be difficult and time consuming to correct later. Digital cameras have many more color balance options than film ever did, but when the ambient lighting changes from shot to shot, as it can at a wedding, getting perfect color in camera can be impossible.

Automated solutions promise much but are often inconsistent. Without a known neutral in the image their color balancing act is mostly guesswork. Including a true point of reference, such as Ed Pierce’s Digital Calibration Target, simplifies everything. The following workflow will give photographers a fast, easy way to ensure clean accurate color.

After shooting a reference image, one click color correction is possible

Color Correction Tutorial
You will need a digital camera that allows you to select the white balance and adjust exposure manually, a full version of Photoshop, a Digital Calibration Target or a reference card containing white, black and 18% gray like the MacBeth Color Checker to shoot.

photo #1

Step 1 – Set the camera white balance. You can use anything but Auto. Try and match the light source as close as possible and do not change your selection for the duration of the shooting session. To create an extreme example, I set the camera to a cloudy day white balance and used only modeling lights mixed with incandescent ceiling lights (photo #2) for illumination.

photo #2

Step 2 – Photograph the Digital Calibration Target to create a reference image. Be sure to fill the frame with the Digital Calibration Target (photo #3).

photo #3

Step 3 – Now photograph your subject under the same lighting conditions. (photo #4)

photo #4

Step 4 – Next, transfer your images to your computer and open the reference image in Photoshop. Select Image/Adjust/Curves to open the Curves dialogue.

photo #5

Step 5 – Set the black, white and gray points using the eyedroppers. First, select the black point eyedropper and click it on a black area of the target (photo # 6). Then use the white point eyedropper to click on a white area of the target (photo #7). The lastly use on the gray eyedropper and click on a gray area of the target (photo #8).

photo #6

photo #

photo #

Step 6 – Now save the custom curve you’ve just created. (photos 9 – 10)

photo #9

photo #10

Step 7 – Close your reference image, and open the subject image you shot under the same lighting conditions. (photo #11)

photo #11
Step 8 – Open the Curves dialog and load the custom curve you just created. (photo #12) You should see the see the results immediately. (photo #13)

photo #12

photo #13

Before and After (photo #14)

photo #14

This is a fairly easy technique to master and if used properly will consistently produce accurate results. By creating an action in Photoshop to apply the curve, entire folders of images can be batch color corrected saving countless hours of tedious work.
It’s possible to use other reference targets but beware of papers that have optical brighteners in them. Often the papers that look the whitest actually fluoresce in UV, making your reference shot inaccurate. You can safely use standards such as the MacBeth Color Checker or photographic Gray Cards, but using a tool like the Digital Calibration Target is quick and easy. Additionally, Ed Pierce includes a DVD that details a technique to insure accurate exposure by tweaking the in-camera histogram.
Digital Calibration Targets are available in two sizes and can be ordered from PhotoVisionVideo.com. They are reversible and can be used as conventional white reflectors also.
The MacBeth Color Checker

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